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Script First? Or Art? [Mar. 18th, 2007|07:54 pm]
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[music |Norah Jones - "Wake Me Up"]



For those working already in the comics industry, you're undoubtably familiar with the traditional flow of process: Editors come up with an idea, writer takes the idea and writes the script, artist pencils, inker inks, colorist colors, and then everything's lettered and sent off to press. Not to mention the million-and-one edits that happen every step of the way. It's a very simple process that's been worked a thousand times over.

But what about those who are their own writer, their own idea-maker, their own artist, director, and producer? The path isn't always quite so clear cut! There's nobody saying, "Draw this script!" "Ink this line!" There are a million and one ways to approach an idea, so why not take the path of least resistance?

When I first got started out in comics, a script was a vague idea. I knew what was in my head, I knew what I wanted it to say, I knew how it was supposed to look.

Well, at least I thought I did.

A seventeen-page short story and a hundred-sixty-page book later, I . . . somewhat quickly learned the appalling side effects of jumping into art unprepared. A well laid-out story takes planning and plotting and a lot of forethought of exactly where it's going, otherwise you're left with a lot of false leads and loose ends.

One of the most common questions I get when speaking to young artists--especially those influenced by manga and epic-length stories--is whether I write a script first. If you had asked me a few years ago, I would have said, "No." Ask me today, and you'll get a resounding, "Yes!!!"

Scripts don't have to be set in stone, but they are the building-blocks to a smooth, well thought out, and planned graphic novel. Perhaps, with a shorter story, you can get away with leaving the planning to the side, but with graphic novels, you're SOL unless you have a map and a few clear directions. It's easy to get lost in the moment of a scene and lose sight of the big picture, creating moments that speed up and slow down according not to the timing of the scene, but to necessity of the art instead.

Think of this: the more difficult the art is to draw, the more time you spend on it, the longer it feels like you've been working on the scene, and relative time according to the story becomes distorted.

However to a reader who's reading at the same steady pace--whether it be an easy close-up shot or a difficult crowd scene--time is relative to how long it takes their eye to travel across the page, not how difficult the art is. For many artists, this creates a "staccato/legato" effect where scenes feel either too short or too long.

Musical terms aside, think of your longer stories as a giant tapestry, where threads of a story interweave in and out of one another, sometimes one color disappearing behind another to reappear once again at the end. The design must be planned beforehand, and if you want there to be red at the end, then you must start the thread somewhere at the beginning. Story elements that play a major role at the end of the book must first be introduced (even if in a mere drop of a word or hint of a color) at the beginning in order to work.

I have a couple of friends working on story pitches right now who know what happens in the first book and they know all about the characters, but . . . "I don't know where it's going! Except that they save the world. Somehow." Don't start drawing until you know. Maybe not every last detail, but plan out the path and let the characters roam will they will. They'll decide for themselves where exactly to go and what to say.

So if you've never written a full script before, where to start?

Something I've taken up lately is an idea yanked from the movie and television industry. I sit down and write down on little note cards where the plot is going. I write down key moments and dialog. Nothing fancy. Then I pin 'em up to a wall (usually in my kitchen) and read straight through them, looking for plot holes and noting pacing. I sit down on the counter, pen in one hand, note cards in the other, jotting down changes as I spring back up to switch out cards, take one down, pin up another . . . or three. Slowly, the story starts to fill out, take shape and form. The characters haven't quite yet come to life yet, but the path of their life has been determined and they're now let loose to wander within their set confines.

After that, I sit down and write. And write, and write, and write. Being both artist and writer, I take no hesitancy in describing the scene and the details. Other writers prefer to leave out the details, resorting instead to dialog alone and key camera points. Everybody has their own approach, but for a very visual person, I describe where the characters look, how they move, their expressions, their body language, and their environment and how they interact with it.

Being halfway through my third graphic novel and halfway through my first book, I can say for me, personally, scripting and plotting have been quite literally, a godsend. It will always be a struggle to create, but in reading over what I've produced, the improvement is visible even to me, the artist's harshest critic. Perhaps practice has aided in that improvement as well, but figuring out a system that works for me, personally, has helped to improve dialog, pacing, and voice.

Everybody has to figure out what system works best for them. Everybody has to go through their own period of trial and error to discover what exactly that system is. Everybody has to find their own way, no one can take you there. But perhaps with a few pointers and guidelines from others, the going could be a little less tough.

So put down those easels and try writing for a change. Go out to a park or a cafe and sit and descriptively write about what the people around you are doing instead of just drawing them. How is he wearing his red leather cap? Does she walk with a sway in her hip? Jot down dialog. Observe and reflect. If you want to be a creator drawing your own stories rather than somebody else's, then you're going to have to learn to write eventually, anyway.

Not that drawing somebody else's story can't be fun, as well. But let's save that discussion for another day. ;)

And, as always, others are welcome to disagree. :) I'm speaking only from my side of the wall. Oh yeah, and there's some of that Steady Beat volume 3 art, I promised. Yummy pencils. I've a thing for drawing music in this chapter. :D They're also some of the few pages that don't give everything away! O_O



*5 lb. Hero is my band. If I had a band. Which I'll never have a band because comics eats your soul and I'll be drawing and writing 'till I the day I die. That, and I can't sing worth a copper penny. But at least I'm honest.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: comic_heroine
2007-03-19 02:03 am (UTC)

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Something I've taken up lately is an idea yanked from the movie and television industry.

...Honestly it's one of the BEST things you can do! XD I had a course in writing for film and TV and it's amazing how much of it you can use for comics in script and art. (I've done the similar thing with my pitchbook I need to finish art for...oh time! and motivation is a devil gah!)

Speaking of others' art, I should be working on some work of my boss's now to stay on track.
[User Picture]From: lynxgriffin
2007-03-19 02:21 am (UTC)

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Oh wow, the whole idea of time moving differently for the artist and for the reader makes a lot of sense. I do feel like certain "boring" (but necessary for character development) scenes move slower for me just because they're not the parts I want to be working on, so it's tough to remember that the audience is still reading and will be judging the "exciting" parts against the "boring" parts just the same. :O
[User Picture]From: pretty_kozi
2007-03-19 02:31 am (UTC)

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You read my mind. Lol. Everything in this entry was exactly what I was looking for to look over. One thing I also have to work on are my backgrounds and perspective---they are murder. *falls over* Thank you for the insight and grateful to have you on my friends list so that I can get tidbits here and there about what I should be doing. Like you....maybe one day I can see my comic on the shelf. It's a promising dream that I am determined to make.

Love and Peacea!

-Ren-
[User Picture]From: jbacardi
2007-03-19 02:48 am (UTC)

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That two-page spread at top is awesome.

And you've given me something to think about- I don't know if you've checked it out when I posted it on my LJ, but I've had this bare bones of an ongoing and a ton of characters floating around in my head for years and years, but haven't done much of anything with it for a number of reasons, one of which is the simple fact that I don't really know where to go with the whole thing. Point A to point B I can do, but point E to point F, F to G, and so on is apparently beyond me...
From: qwertyjpc
2007-03-19 03:15 am (UTC)

cool tips!

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I've been holding onto some stories held in a file for years, and now maybe I can do something with them...
From: qwertyjpc
2007-04-16 12:27 pm (UTC)

Re: cool tips!

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hey..

I was looking at this again, as part of my saved memories. I noticed something again. I like Leah's poses. and her new hair.not only am I impressed, I'm flattered..again. hehe..

don't worry. I don't think anyone will figure out what I'm talking about. but do you understand what I'm laughing about? It should be obvious to you by now.
[User Picture]From: uminomamori
2007-03-19 05:00 am (UTC)

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That's something I need work on:) Outline are important! My scripts are just dialogue, and sometimes it changes by the time I actually draw something. I take that and do thumbnails of individual panels and then figure out the page layout. I think the last few pages I did I sketched out the entire page on printer paper and then redrew it. That helped a lot. But when it's not being published I have a hard time caring that much:)
[User Picture]From: kukelekuch
2007-03-19 08:26 am (UTC)

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Thanks, that was very helpful.
[User Picture]From: emmav
2007-03-19 11:14 am (UTC)

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Good advice as always hon. Totally agreed...I couldn't survive without my planning stages!
Looking forward to SB 3! ^_^
May need to ask for a signed purchase again. *rubs hands together*
[User Picture]From: rkbwrites
2007-03-19 01:55 pm (UTC)

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Great post about writing. :) Artwork looks great too! :)
[User Picture]From: goldfishhead
2007-03-19 08:09 pm (UTC)

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hehe. now mabey my writer wont complain that I made her do a 7 page scene-by-scene outline before I'd start drawing. I hate getting all exited about a project- only to discover that my writer dosnt know what shes doing, and has given up.

by the by...do you ever have time for crits? I've posted up some pages, and I realy respect your layout skills, I'd be honoured to have you take a peek.

But totaly non-grudge holding if you havent the time or inclination.
[User Picture]From: decibel45
2007-03-19 10:06 pm (UTC)

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I still don't know how you can draw all those leaves and other details like that without going batshit crazy...

Have you thought about story-boarding like they do for the movies?
[User Picture]From: misterkofa
2007-03-19 11:18 pm (UTC)

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as always..well spoken.
[User Picture]From: peacewish
2007-03-20 12:52 am (UTC)

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I bought Robert Kernen's Building Better Plots a few years back, before my sabbatical in Thailand, and it was such an amazing help in the art of crafting a well-written, no-deux-ex-machinas plot. He even describes your exact method: bulleting plot points and key dialogue on note cards and then laying them out on a broad space so you can get a gist of the whole. Totally swears by knowing the end before you ever write a word, too.

I believe your problem with the complicated drawing. It happens in the word world too. I'll pour days of energy into a fight scene that lasts about five paragraphs, and it's so exhausting to know it took the reader about a minute! Fight scenes are just the worst.
[User Picture]From: cherrycoloured
2007-03-20 06:46 pm (UTC)

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I've been writing comics sorta like this as well. I type out my plot outline, and then email it to a friend. Usually some one else is more judgemental and can pick up on things that don't work. They give me feedback, and we keep repeating this process until everyone is happy with the outline. Then comes character design/profiles, follwed by working on my first chapter-script/thumbnails, pencils, inks, tones, lettering, and- voila!- a comic :)

And the pencils are gorgeous! I can't believe all the detail you put in!
From: (Anonymous)
2007-03-22 05:47 am (UTC)

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Hi Rivkah! I have only recently discovered your work through Comic Space (just a few days ago). I am really inspired by your beautiful art!

I am a journalist, comic book writer from Melbourne, Australia (just so you know who I am).

Cheers, Jason Berek-Lewis
[User Picture]From: sircrazlot
2007-03-22 11:03 pm (UTC)

whoa...

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you've just answered a major question for me. I am currently working on a pitch/show ible for comic-con (btw will you be there?) and I've always just wrtiien a few notes and drew the rest. Part of me felt like i needed to write more but I know me and me likes to write in insane detial. For a while now i thought that would be a bad thing for comics.

Thanks for posting your thoughts. (i should read my friends list posts more often ^_^; )
[User Picture]From: whune
2007-03-23 12:06 am (UTC)

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I really like these layouts
[User Picture]From: stevapalooza
2007-03-23 12:48 am (UTC)

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The most interesting part of writing and drawing your own stuff is being able to view the same material through different eyes. No matter how perfect the writer in me thinks a script may be, the artist in me always finds something to change or cut later on.
From: vitamin_love69
2007-06-16 04:40 pm (UTC)

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I love what you said <3

This is a really great idea, i never though about actually observing people and writing little things about them (unstead of drawing them) to better my creative skills. I want to try this so bad now. Thank you ;_; you are a very insight person (i think that is the word?? forgive my english ^^;;)
[User Picture]From: sojiro_chan
2008-01-24 09:18 pm (UTC)

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that essay was really useful to me. I'm currently writting the script of my first comic, and was asking myself if I should continue to write after the first chapters, orif I should start to draw right after. I finally decided to finish the script first, while making some designs drawings at the same time. Some of the advices you gave were great too,, I took note of that and probably use it ^^